This post is the second in a series examining all the details of various airports from a family travel perspective, with a special eye to the challenges that parents of babies, toddlers, and young kids face. Today’s focus is Oakland Airport (OAK), which serves as a great alternative to SFO for families looking to visit the San Francisco Bay Area.
Although San Francisco Airport was first up in this series, I consider Oakland Airport (OAK) across the bay my true hometown airport. It is located just 12 minutes door-to-door from my home. In fact, I’m so close that when bad weather strikes, the flight path for planes arriving into OAK changes so that some planes fly right over my house. The noise is the price we pay for convenience, I suppose. (The side benefit is that my now 16 month old son adores watching planes flight overhead and is on his way to being a full-fledged AvGeek!)
I’ve already detailed why I think OAK may sometimes be a superior choice for family travelers over SFO. With that editorializing done, let’s get down to the logistics of OAK Airport with kids:
Transportation To & From OAK
- Taxi: Waits at the taxi lines at OAK are usually quite reasonable but the ride to downtown San Francisco (assuming that is your final destination) can be pricey at around $60-70. With a family of 3, 4, or more, the convenience of this option is pretty high even with the expense. If you need a car seat for your child, I’d highly recommend bringing your own as finding cabs with car seats require all sorts of special planning and a bit of luck.
- Uber/Lyft/Sidecar: Ride-sharing services are all the rage in the Bay Area, and you can pick your service of choice. At the moment, none of these services offer car seats so you will need to bring your own just as with cabs.
Public Transit (BART): From downtown San Francisco, the ride to or from OAK on the Bay Area’s major public transit service is about 30-35 minutes. Taking BART is a two step process, as you’ll need to ride BART to the Coliseum/Oakland Airport stop and then connect to the new AirBART train (or vice versa depending whether you are headed to or from the airport). AirBART takes just 8 minutes and runs as frequently as every 5 minutes at peak times. Fares to and from San Francisco for this entire trip total just over $10, and other East Bay destinations are a few dollars less. Complete schedule and price information is available here.
Rental Car: If you are arriving into OAK and need to rent a car, you’ll find all the major car rental agencies available. Take the rental car shuttle to the rental car center where most of the companies (Alamo, Avis, Budget, National, Fox, Enterprise, Dollar, Thrifty, and Hertz) are centrally located. If you need to fill up your car before returning it, there are quite a few gas stations on Hegenberger Road approaching the airport.
- Parking: If your trip originates in the Bay Area, driving your own car and parking at the airport is often the most convenient for parents of small kids because you have your own car seats. Parking at OAK is a breeze, particularly for short trips. You can walk from your car directly into both terminals if you park in the hourly ($32/day) or daily ($22/day) lots. Parking in the economy lot requires taking a short shuttle and is $16 a day. OAK is always offering all sorts of coupons and deals on parking that often make it quite economical in one of the walkable lots. My family recently snagged a deal in the daily lot where we paid only $14 per day (less than economy). Check OAK’s parking page for current discounts. In recent months, OAK has even been offering 5 free days of parking for those headed to Hawaii, Europe, or Texas.
OAK Airport Layout
OAK has two terminals and its layout is quite easy to master. Terminal 2 has all the Southwest flights and everyone else can be found in Terminal 1.
Each terminal has its own security checkpoint although there is a narrow connector on the sterile side of security where you can walk between the two (quite convenient!). The airport is fairly compact and your little ones should have no problem walking even to the more remote gates. In Terminal 2, you’ll have to ascend one set of escalators after clearing security in order to get to the gates, so be prepared for a slow elevator ride instead if you have a stroller. Terminal 1 has a nice ramp that doesn’t require elevator use.
OAK Security Lines
One of the major reasons I go out of my way to find flights to and from OAK is security lines (or rather, the lack thereof). Both terminals have a special family lane if you are traveling with young kids and there is almost never anyone else in it in my experience. Find it and you will cut 99% of the line. We recently suffered through a “bad” line at OAK during a peak time for Presidents Day school holidays, and the wait took all of 5 minutes – I must admit that my family has been spoiled.
It is also important to note that OAK is primarily used by business travelers for commuter flights up and down the West Coast. That means security lines are usually only long at business traveler hours, so if you are hopping on a Saturday morning flight to Hawaii, lines just won’t be that bad no matter what. If you are flying at 7 am on a Monday flight, however, give yourself some extra time.
I have also had mostly good experiences when dealing with the actual screening process. As is the case at SFO, OAK agents are used to seeing lots of traveling families and usually don’t go overboard in screening bottles, juice boxes, and the like. If you are traveling with extra liquids, agents usually do a quick and easy swab test on your items.
OAK’s Kid-Friendly Features & Amenities
Since OAK is a much smaller airport than SFO and most travelers don’t spend a lot of time there, its amenities for kids are few and far between. In Southwest’s Terminal 2, a few of the gates have round kid-sized tables with TV screens showing cartoons. All bathrooms I’ve tried have changing tables available, so you at least have the basics available to you when traveling with small children.
Dining at OAK is similarly utilitarian but gets the job done. Terminal 2 (Southwest) is larger and has more options like Pyramid Ale Taproom and Gordon Biersch as well as a small food court. Best of all, it has a See’s candy stand and a Fenton’s ice cream store in case you get desperate and need to bribe your little ones with a treat!
Have you traveled through OAK with kids? What other tips would you add? Any challenges you’ve faced?
Considering traveling to the Bay Area? Check out my post on navigating SFO airport with kids and follow my Northern California Pinterest board for all the latest.
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